Category Archives: Heck

A Cephalopod Mollusc That Can Swim In The Desert: Kochtopus

KochtopusThe Koch Brothers (Charles and David) are among America’s 0.0001%.  In fact, what they earn in One Second could feed a homeless person for an entire year. [Salon] They are not subscribers to Andrew Carnegie’s maxim, “He who dies rich, dies disgraced.”  [PBS] And they are in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) sights.

“But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. I believe in an America where economic opportunity is open to all. But based on their actions and the policies they promote, the Koch brothers seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy. Based on Senate Republicans’ ardent defense of the Koch brothers, and the fact that they advocate for many of the same policies the Koch brothers do, it seems my Republican colleagues also believe in a system that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. The Koch brothers are willing to invest billions to buy that America.”

And they are. In 2012 the Koch Brothers political network, designed with the anonymity of donors in mind, raked in approximately $400 million — more than all other conservative organizations, and more than all other traditional supporting organizations associated with Democrats. [WaPo]

If you’d like a graphic rendition of the Koch Brothers’ political connections click here to see the circles of influence developed from the TC4Trust, the Freedom Partners, and the Center for Patients Rights.  These are connected to The American Energy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, American Commitment, American Future Fund, 60+ Association, the EvangChr4Trust, Center for Shared Services, Themis Trust, Public Engagement Group Trust, Public Notice, Libre Initiative Trust, Generation Opportunity, Americans for Prosperity, and the Concerned Veterans for America.

The incestuous financial relationship between the TC4Trust and organizations like Concerned Women for America, the Center to Protect Patient’s Rights, and the Themis group are visible here.  Unlike the 501 c (4) group, TC4Trust, Freedom Partners is classified as a 501 c (6), a trade association.

“Despite its tax status, though, in many ways it’s more like the other grant-making dark money groups — the 501(c)(4)s — on steroids. Formed in late 2011, it gave out grants totaling nearly $236 million in 2012, far more than the others giving to politically active tax-exempt groups. Much of that money went to limited liability corporations that are wholly owned by better-known nonprofits — what the IRS refers to as “disregarded entities.”  [Open Secrets]

The Themis Trust appears to exist so that we all certain of receiving the Koch Brothers’ messages.

“Called Themis, the independent group is the most ambitious of the many conservative political technology projects now in development. People with direct knowledge of the group as well as political technology industry veterans say it is backed by the Koch brothers, although their names do not appear on an annual regulatory filing and Koch Industries spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.” [Reuters May 17, 2012]

And, what do we get here in Nevada from the Americans for Prosperity?  An advertisement supporting Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) in the upcoming off-year elections.  The substance of the commercial, if we can use the term ‘substance’ loosely, is that Heck has consistently fought the Evil Demon — Obamacare.   Perhaps the generalized form of “Obamacare” still isn’t popular with the general public, but what the ad tells us is that Heck has been fighting against:

(1) Insurance policies which exclude children with pre-existing medical conditions, including birth defects.  Insurance company practices of rescinding policies because the policy holder made an honest mistake on an application form, and your right to appeal a refusal from your insurance company to pay for medical care.

(2) Insurance company junk policies which have lifetime limits.  Requiring insurance corporations to justify their rate increases, and requires that the insurance corporations spend at least most of the money they collect in premiums from policy holders on … medical care.

(3) Removing the barrier to medical services in the ER, and covering preventative medical treatment.

Americans For Prosperity would like very much to support Representative Heck as a “fighter” against “socialized medicine,” without actually saying what it is that Representative Heck is fighting against.

As the Nevada Republican Party continues to lurch rightward into LooneyLand the Koch Brothers, and their extensive network of funding operations, will be only too happy to assist in the 2014 election cycle.  They’ve already started.

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Filed under Heck, Nevada politics, Politics

Heck Dancing On The Third Rail

Joe HeckRep. Joe Heck (R-TeaParty Darling) appears to be dancing as fast as he can, perhaps to the memorable Fred Ebb lyrics of “Razzle Dazzle,” (Chicago):

Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle ‘em
Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give ‘em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather ‘em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

Representative Heck was once wont to flash the old “Social Security is a Pyramid Scheme” line [Politico June 2011] only to tap dance in the other direction tweeting to Jon Ralston, “Those who have followed my position know that I am fully committed to protecting the promise of Social Security.” [link]  The old Razzle Dazzle is altogether more difficult in an age of video-tape, audio recordings, and on-line news clips.

Razzle Dazzle: “Those who have followed my position…”  Those who have attempted to follow the Representative’s position may very well be those who have standing appointments with their chiropractor.

Flash: “I am fully committed to protecting the promise…” Note the carefully selected word “promise,” not necessarily the Social Security program as currently configured.  The promise of Social Security is simply that there will be a safety net income insurance program in place to prevent elders from falling into abject poverty.

Hocus Pocus:   First, let’s drop the first batch of sequins from the eye mask — the Social Security program, is NOT a pyramid scheme.  This is a Pyramid Scheme:

“As its name indicates, the pyramid scheme is structured like a pyramid. It starts with one person – the initial recruiter – who is on top, at the apex of the pyramid. This person recruits a second person, who is required to “invest” $100 which is paid to the initial recruiter. In order to make his or her money back, the new recruit must recruit more people under him or her, each of whom will also have to invest $100. If the recruit gets 10 more people to invest, this person will make $900 with just a $100 investment.”

“The fraud lies in the fact that it is impossible for the cycle to sustain itself, so people will lose their money somewhere down the line. Those who are most vulnerable are those towards the bottom of the pyramid, where it becomes impossible to recruit the number of people required to pay off the previous layer of recruiters. This kind of fraud is illegal in the Unites States and most countries throughout the world. It is estimated that 90% of people who get involved in a pyramid scheme will lose their money.” [Investopedia]

These scams show up in e-mail chains, old fashioned chain letters, and in acquaintance or affiliation frauds.   There really is no comparison between the illegal pyramid scams and an income insurance program like Social Security. To conflate the two is simply to admit ignorance of both.

The charge that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme, a variation on a pyramid scam, is to conflate assured income with investment.

In a Ponzi Scheme investors are lured into investing in a scheme without being assured of how the returns on the investment plan will be generated.  The most common structure is that the “returns” are merely taken from more recent investors.  Ah ha! The detractors now claim that Social Security must be a Ponzi Scheme because older workers are receiving benefits paid for by younger ones.   No. All that’s required to dismiss this bit of Hocus Pocus is to understand what a Ponzi Scheme does, and why they all tend to fail rather rapidly.  No, Social Security is NOT like a Ponzi Scheme.   Kevin Drum explained this rather neatly in September, 2011.

Without the Hocus Pocus:  Social Security is supported by taxes.  The taxes (payroll taxes) are collected — the Social Security beneficiaries are paid, and the trick is to balance the revenues from the taxes with the benefits paid out.  To conflate an investment plan with a subsidized social safety net program is to misunderstand both.

Hocus Pocus, Shezzadaaaa — It’s out of balance! It’s Going Broke! There will be Nothing, Nothing I Say, for our Grandchildren…. Not so fast.

“The good news is that the Social Security trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2033, give or take, at which point there will still be enough money to pay 75 percent of promised benefits, according to the latest trustees’ report, an annual opportunity for the financial press and haters of our major social benefit programs to do the Panic Dance. Meanwhile, Medicare’s trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2024, more or less, at which point there will still be enough money to pay out 87 percent of benefits.” [HuffPo]

There is no reason for the Razzle Dazzle or the Hocus Pocus — let the sequins scatter to the floor — Social Security is not broke, it’s not a pyramid scheme, not a Ponzi Scam, and there’s no reason for the Panic Dance.

If we want to make the program more secure, there’s a reasonably simple way to do it.  Heck opponent, Erin Bilbray, nails it [Sebelius] — simply increase the current cap on Social Security tax collections.

Employees — the Social Security tax rate is 6.2 percent on income under $113,700 through the end of 2013. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45 percent of all income;   Employers — the Social Security tax rate is 6.2 percent. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45 percent; and  Self-employed —the Social Security tax rate is 12.4 percent on income under $113,700 through the end of 2013. The Medicare tax rate is 2.9 percent.  [SSA]

Translation: Every dollar earned over $113,700 is Social Security Tax Free.  The individual earning $113,700 annually is paying the same Social Security taxes as the person earning $1,137,000 or $11,370,000.  Want more revenue? Raise the cap.   Or, as candidate Bilbray explains:

“I will not support any plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare. I believe we cannot fix our fiscal problems on the backs of our retirees. Congress needs to address the deficit and spending by eliminating corporate tax loopholes, cutting spending, cracking down on waste and fraud, and tightening our belts. It is not right to ask Americans who have paid into a system their entire lives to sacrifice before Congress takes these issues seriously.”  [Bilbray]

No hocus pocus on Social Security there, no dancing on the Third Rail.

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Filed under Economy, Heck, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Social Security

Mountains and Mole Hills

Mountain MolehillOne of the more unpleasant aspects of today’s media offerings is the tendency to confuse mountains and molehills.  No disrespect to all those diligent moles out there assiduously plying their turf disrupting trade, but when Everything Is A Crisis! perspective is the first casualty.

Mountain:  We have an immigration policy in place which doesn’t work for us.  There are two bills addressing this issue, S. 744 which passed the Senate and H.R. 15 which languishes in the House while the TeaParty/GOP leadership decides which they’d prefer to tick off — their corporate backers or the xenophobic right wing.    Representative Amodei (R-NV2) thinks he could support Rep. Eric Cantor’s “Kids Act” and he provides a summary of the issue on his webpage, but his statements on comprehensive immigration policy reform remain fuzzy.  Where Representative Heck (R-NV3)  stands is a bit more clear, given his statement on October 25th:

“I have spent countless hours meeting with community members and addressing town hall meetings on the topic of immigration reform. There is no doubt in my mind that reforming our immigration system is right and necessary and I remain committed to enacting real solutions that will fix our current broken system. I will continue to urge the House leadership to move forward on immigration reform with all possible haste.”

While he’s “urging leadership to move forward,” the question remains — toward what?  A piecemeal enactment of immigration policies which serve only to protract the issues, and may never arrive at a complete picture — or — legislation like S. 744 or H.R. 15?

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV1) drilled down to one of the major issues in the piecemeal approach to immigration policy reform:  What of women who work in the service sector?

“Comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the fact that many immigrant women work at home or in the informal economy.  If, for example, eligibility for the path to citizenship requires proof of employment, providing paystubs cannot be the only acceptable proof or we risk leaving millions of women behind.  Approximately 74 percent of undocumented domestic workers do not receive documentation of their pay from an employer.  Thankfully, H.R. 15, the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced in the House, addresses this issue by allowing flexible forms of proof of employment. It is critical that we incorporate this thoughtful approach into any immigration reform bill considered by the House.”

Meanwhile, the mountain remains, impervious to rational debate and reasonable action.

Mole Hill:   Those who have purchased individual health insurance plans constitute about 5% of the population. [UI]  This translates to a maximum of 16,500,000 individuals out of a total 330,000,000; if we count every single person large or small, young or old.  The actual percentage is probably closer to 14.3 million individuals. [UI pdf]  Some of these people bought JUNK.  In a search for low premiums they purchased policies that didn’t cover much, if anything, or bought policies the coverage terms of which were so confusing that the insurance corporation was able to deny compensation for even basic treatment options.   The infamous Barrette Case is a classic example of a JUNK policy.   Forbes magazine estimates that about  4 million Americans were sold some 1,200 of these junk policies.

Thus, it should be fairly easy for the press to find some individual examples for popular consumption of these Outraged Individuals who want to keep the cheap junk they purchased, out of a category of 4 million.   Therefore, the media cry “there are millions of Americans affected by this ‘mistake’” is technically accurate but ultimately misleading.   Some broadcasters have jumped on the “Crisis” bandwagon, only to have their stellar examples debunked within hours.  You can tell when the mole hill is being magnified into a mountain IF (1) the report doesn’t compare the junk policy to the coverage available in the health insurance exchanges, (2) if the report doesn’t take into consideration the subsidies available to assist the policy holder pay for the premiums, and (3) if the report relies on individual examples to generate conclusions for which there is no other substantiation.

Mountain:  Speaking of health issues — 32,163 Americans died as a result of gun fire in 2011.  6,220 died as a result of a homicide. 19,766 individuals used a gun to commit suicide.  [GP]  73,883 Americans were injured by gun fire.  432 Americans died in gun related accidents. [GP]  By contrast, in 2011 there were 9,878 fatal automobile accidents in which there was a driver with a BAC level above 0.08 or even higher.  [NRD pdf]  We are coming perilously close to the point at which the number of gun deaths equals or surpasses the number of automobile deaths.  According to figures released by the CDC 33,687 Americans died in auto accidents, 31,672 died as a result of gun violence.  We do something about drunk drivers.  We restrict the licenses of some drivers. We have yet to address the issues related to the easy access to firearms in this country.

When Gallup polled Americans about controlling gun sales in the U.S. during the week of October 3-6, 2013 some 49% favored more stringent controls, 13% thought restrictions should be eased, and 37% called for controls to be kept the same.  A September poll by Quinnipiac University found 89% of Americans supportive of legislation to require universal background checks.  These numbers aside, on September 17th Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he didn’t have enough support to reintroduce the background check bill in the Senate. [TheHill]

Mole Hill: I’m really pleased that there are at least seven retailers who will give their employees a break for celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.  [TP]   That said — when wages for American workers have stagnated for the past decade [EPI], when there are about 10% of our young veterans  still looking for work while the programs to help them are shrinking [CNN], and when the unemployment rate for Whites 6.3% while the unemployment rate for Blacks stands at 13.1% we have a problem far larger than whether or not people go home for Thanksgiving.

Mountain:  Did anyone read the IPCC climate report?   Did anyone delve into Chapter 12, wherein the commission discussed climate change implications for pattern scaling, temperatures and energy budgets, atmospheric circulation, the water cycle, the cryosphere, our oceans, and carbon cycle feedback?  [IPCC pdf] One newspaper noted that the report made the climate change deniers overheat.  Too many media outlets were engaged in sowing seeds of doubt about the report’s content and all but ignoring the conclusions and commentary contained therein.

Mole Hill:  There were 48 bills in the 113th Congress related to the abortion issue. [GovTrack]  There’s Sen. Rand Paul’s S.583 Personhood Bill, H.R. 2300 from Rep. Tom Price to “empower patients” (not), Rep. Trent Frank’s H.R. 1797 “pain” bill, and his H.R. 447 PRENDA, Rep. Jim Jordan introduced H.R. 1091, life begins at conception act, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile back in the world of reality — the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age has declined from a high of 29.3 in 1981 to 19.6 in 2008. [Guttmacher]

A Suggestion

Could we start talking about the mountains, and minimize our time spent in elaborate and protracted debates about mole hills?

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Filed under abortion, Amodei, anti-immigration, ecology, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, media

Immigration Policy and Nevada Poll Numbers

Immigration 2Xenophobia is alive and well in Nevada, and was on display in a brief segment of Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) “Telephone Town Hall” last month — a caller asked about immigration using the standard talking points (“they’re taking our jobs & they soak up public services”).  Representative Amodei was no more clear at the time than his usual serving of word salad, but he did indicate he’d be supportive of Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) version of the Dream Act.  The problem is that the GOP can no more articulate an immigration policy than Rep. Amodei can explain his positions on any given day.

The GOP appears split between the Security First, Dreamers Second, Maybe Comprehensive Reform Later crowd and the Nothing for Anyone Anytime Xenophobes.  [WaPo] As of October 18th the strategizing looked something like this:

“The overriding idea here is that House GOP leaders such as Cantor and Paul Ryan seem to want to pass something that demonstrates a compassionate interest in fixing immigration. Otherwise, Republicans probably wouldn’t be working on the KIDS Act in the first place. Given the state of the House GOP caucus, Republicans can’t pass anything other than security measures on their own. So if they want to pass something, they’d need Dems. The only thing that could get Dems and a majority of House Republicans (to avoid breaking the Hastert Rule) is the KIDS Act. The rest unfolds from there.”  [WaPo]

And then there was the Shut Down Debacle.

“I know the president has said, well, gee, now this is the time to talk about immigration reform,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) told TPM. “He ain’t gonna get a willing partner in the House until he actually gets serious about … his plan to deal with the debt.”  [TPM]

Representative Schock must have missed the memo from the Department of the Treasury last April, when it reported the first reduction since 2007:

The U.S. Treasury Department (USGG10YR) projected it will reduce government debt this quarter for the first time in six years as tax receipts exceed forecasts and spending diminishes.

“The pay-down in net marketable debt was estimated at $35 billion in the April-June period, compared with a projection three months ago for net borrowing of $103 billion, the department said in a statement today in Washington. Treasury officials also see net borrowing of $223 billion in the quarter starting July 1. The estimates set the stage for the department’s quarterly refunding announcement on May 1, when debt issuance plans will be released.” [BloombergNews]

However, any excuse will do to avoid a topic which brings with it the possibility of adamant cries of “amnesty,” and other renditions of Tea Party xenophobia from the right wing.   And then, there’s the purely political perspective which was highlighted by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador:

“I think it’d be crazy for the House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told reporters on the eve of the GOP’s shutdown surrender. “And I’m a proponent of immigration reform. So I think what he’s done over the last two and a half weeks — he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party. And I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind: which is to try to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies.” [TPM]

Meanwhile, H.R. 15, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill sits in the House of Representatives awaiting an assignment to one of a myriad of committees.  The Senate version, S. 744, passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013 with a 68-32 margin is also stalled in the House.

The House Republicans have several options. (1) Enact H.R. 15 and go to conference with the Senate over differences between H.R. 15 and S. 744; (2) Enact their own version of S. 744 and go to conference with the Senate; (3) Continue to play the piece-meal game emphasizing border security, as in H.R. 1417, which has been reported out of committee but has since gone nowhere;  (4) Continue to play the law and order card, as in H.R. 2278 on immigration, also reported from committee but languishing for want of a floor date.  Or, indeed, any combination thereof.

In the midst of this political  morass into which the Republicans have wandered without a road map, there is polling to suggest that support for immigration policy reform is moving well ahead of Nevada’s Republican contingent in the 113th Congress.

If we drill down into the tabs from polling done in Representative Amodei’s district, the xenophobic caller appears to be in a distinct minority:

T4: Thinking now about immigration reform…As you may know, the House of Representatives is beginning to consider different immigration reform proposals. One option is legislation that would significantly increase border security, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If immigrants were to meet a list of requirements, they could eventually apply for citizenship. Knowing this information, would you support or oppose this legislation?

71.7% supported the legislation, 23% opposed it. Moreover, approximately 70% of Republican respondents supported the measure, 80% of Democrats supported it, and 69% of the self identified independent voters supported the description of comprehensive immigration policy reform. [PDF]

The numbers are similar in the cross tabs of the survey taken in Representative Heck’s district.  74.3% were supportive, 21.2% were opposed. In Heck’s district, 70.5% of Republicans supported the statement, 86% of Democrats were supportive, and 84% of those indicating they were independents supported this description of immigration policy reform. [PDF]

The position taken by hard-liners such as Representative Schock (R-IL) and Representative Labrador (R-ID) obviously presents a problem for incumbents Heck and Amodei.  They represent districts in which there is significant support for comprehensive immigration policy reform, but must be wary of offending the sensibilities of the hard-line xenophobes who are vocal in local party leadership.  And thus the GOP remains stuck between the rock of public opinion and the hard place to which they’ve scrambled for safety.

If they continue to adopt the Do Nothing policy, they will eventually have to answer the question why, when there were at least four bills representing general categories of thought on immigration policy they chose to act on none of them?  If they act on the Dream/Kids Acts without addressing the families from which these youngsters come then they face more bad press.  If they act on H.R. 15 or a House version of S. 744 (comprehensive bills) they may face a backlash from the 20%+ in their party which opposes any immigration policy changes at all.

While the polling numbers indicate the last option may be their best in Nevada’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, the pull of the xenophobic and intransigent Tea Party elements may prove too strong.  The Do Nothing Congress of 1948 managed a 0.228 ratio of bills introduced to bills passed, the 112th Congress could only manage a ratio of 0.082. [BrookingsAEIpdf] The ratio for the 113th could look even worse.

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Filed under Amodei, Heck, Immigration, Politics, Republicans

Heck’s Yeah But Dance on CIR

Joe HeckHow to be supportively un-supportive?  What’s to be done by a Nevada Congressional Representative who fancies himself a popular member of the Tea Party Wing of Wing-Nuts Intl. on the subject of comprehensive immigration reform when he’s representing a district in which there are some 108,410 individuals accounted as Hispanic or Latino in the last census?  (15.4%) of the total district population. [Census]  Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) may be dancing as fast as he can.

One dance partner — the Las Vegas Tea Party sought to counter a pro-immigration policy reform event at Heck’s office on June 24, 2013 with some counter demonstrators of their own, the Anti-Amnesty crusaders.  [LVTP]  By their lights any path to citizenship is “amnesty” and hence unacceptable, as Heck discovered in a July 2 town hall session. [LVRJ]

Possible Dance Moves

Slip and Slide:  Representative Heck has been providing reporters with essentially the same answer to immigration policy reform questions for months.   The message boils down to “I like it, if there are sufficient safeguards…”  Indeed, Heck hasn’t moved too far from his official website’s declaration on what constitutes a safeguard:

“Those provisions are improved border enforcement, a modern e-verify system, a more sustainable guest worker program, and improvements in the current legal immigration system. Finally, while I oppose blanket amnesty, I am open to considering proposals that address earned citizenship. ” [Heck]

Here’s where the slide part enters the picture.  Heck wants “more border enforcement,” a “more sustainable guest worker program,” a “modern e-verify system,” and “improvements in the current legal system.”

It’s not obvious what could possibly constitute more border enforcement along the U.S. border with Mexico than that which is contemplated in the current bill — which would authorize one border agent for every 1,000 feet.  In short, adding another 20,000 agents to the 18,500 already stationed along the southern border. [YNews]  However, all that Rep. Heck would have to do to slide by this notion is to declare that short of a Chinese Wall, a moat with alligators, an electrified fence, and land mines…nothing is sufficient border security.

What is a “sustainable guest worker program?”   Is it a guest worker program which allows Silicon Valley companies to hire computer hardware and software engineers from abroad to import technology workers?  Is it a guest worker program which keeps tomato farms in Florida stocked with help?   Who has to be happy in order for the program to be characterized as “sustainable?”  How might a Representative with qualms about voting in favor of the current comprehensive immigration policy reform bill use the qualifier “sustainable?”

Precisely what would have to happen in order for the e-verify system to be declared “modern?”  Again, there’s a qualifier, and where there’s a qualifier there’s a way towards the exit.

Finally, exactly WHAT improvements in the current legal immigration system is Heck seeking?  More qualifiers mean more exit ramps.

The more qualifiers attached to a statement of support, the more likely it is in political realms to be listening to a politician establishing how he will oppose a bill than to be hearing genuine enthusiasm for a measure.

Talk Much Do Little:  Passivity can do wonders for a political career.  If a Representative is not signed on to a bill as a co-sponsor, and isn’t leading either the proponents or the opponents, then often that person can wait for any outcome, and use the slip and slide qualifiers to determine a final decision.  All one has to do is Nothing — no call for a floor vote, no signature on a discharge petition, no nothing.  Should a bill fail without a floor vote our intrepid Representatives can argue, “I supported the bill but it never came up for a vote.” (and I did nothing to promote the idea that it should.)

Get in Line and Dance:  The problem for Representative Heck is figuring out which line to join in the current ideologic mess that’s the Republican Party in the 113th Congress.  There’s the Steve King (R-IA) line which touts that immigration reform will unleash the onslaught of violence throughout the land. [TPM] There’s Sen. Marco Rubio’s imaginary “threat” of the President taking executive action on immigration reform (read “amnesty”) if the House doesn’t move. [Politico] And, there is a confusing slurry of points in between, Heck’s included.

For all the ink expended on trying to calculate where Rep. Heck will land on the topic of comprehensive immigration policy reform, it may come down to a political calculation in part influenced by the momentum gained by his opponent Erin Bilbray?

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Filed under Heck, Immigration, Nevada politics

Nevada Representatives Explain Economics, sort of…

tweedledeeWe can easily use Representative Joe Heck’s (R-NV3) own words to decode the magic economic policy he’s espousing, and one that is antithetical to the requirements of the REAL economy in which people in Nevada and elsewhere are looking for REAL jobs:

“Uncertainty is gripping our economy. It is felt by families and job creators across Nevada, and it is why our economy hasn’t recovered fast enough. The uncertainty stems from the federal government’s spending, leading families to wonder if their taxes will go up to pay for Washington’s misadventures. The uncertainty stems from government’s overly burdensome regulations, leading businesses to wonder if they will be forced to spend more money complying with regulations instead of hiring new workers. ”  [Heck]

Now, let’s decode this gibberish: “Uncertainty is gripping our economy. It is felt by families and job creators across Nevada, and it is why our economy hasn’t recovered fast enough.”

Notice that the “uncertainty” is highly generalized, and instead of being predicated on data the implication is offered that this is the cause of a slow recovery.  But wait, isn’t Representative Heck being specific when he talks about government spending and “burdensome regulations?”  NO. Not exactly.

First off the bat, how often does it need to be pointed out to Representative Heck that federal government spending as a percentage of our GDP is declining?  Perhaps he’d need a picture:

Federal Spending 2

Or perhaps the Congressman needs yet another graphic concerning the rate of spending?

Annualized Federal SpendingPlaying Tweedledum to Heck’s Tweedledee, Representative Mark Amodei strikes this poise in prose:

“The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. The administration needs to admit that its policies of record spending, uncontrolled debt, excessive regulations, and the threat of higher taxes are not the solution. They are the problem.”  [Amodei]

Do the charts illustrating federal spending levels since 1985, and the rate of increase in federal spending levels since the Reagan Administration  look like there’s “record spending?” “Uncontrolled debt?”    In short, the individuals in denial, who need to admit they have a problem, are Representatives Heck and Amodei, who are not going to let some inconvenient facts get in the way of their radical economic ideology.

Oh, Those Burdensome Regulations!

Heck: “The uncertainty stems from government’s overly burdensome regulations, leading businesses to wonder if they will be forced to spend more money complying with regulations instead of hiring new workers.”

Amodei: “Washington has tied the hands of small business owners and job creators with onerous regulations and backward fiscal policies that have stalled the economy, slowed innovation and destroyed jobs. We need common sense, pro-growth policies to give small businesses and entrepreneurs renewed confidence in our economy and to remove Washington as the roadblock to job creation.” [Amodei]

Secondly,  do we really have any serious questions about which regulations the Congressmen are so concerned will lead to economic atrophy?  We can get a few clues by looking at the bills the Republicans have brought to the floor that directly address regulations.  What new regulations have taken place in the last few years that have Republicans up in arms?

The Sarbanes Oxley Act (2002) — a statute that was being hacked at in 2009. [NYTimes] Oh, those “burdensome regulations” which sought to prevent another re-enactment of the Enron Debacle, and other financial sector scandals of the recent past.  Thus the passage of H.R. 1564 in the House of Representatives the “Audit Integrity and Job Protection Act – which Amends the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) to deny the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board any authority to require that audits conducted for a particular issuer of securities in accordance with SOX standards be conducted by specific auditors, or that such audits be conducted for an issuer by different auditors on a rotating basis.”  Both Representatives Heck and Amodei were pleased to vote in favor of this bill to gut the independent accounting rules for large corporations.  [roll call 306]

Now it’s time to ask, just how many small business owners were wondering how to comply with the auditing requirements for major corporations?  How many garage owners, bakery shop operators, and hardware store businessmen were delaying hiring decisions based on the final resolution of PCAOB jurisdiction?  It’s reasonable to conclude that the answer to that question is ZERO.

The Dodd Frank Act, enacted in the wake of the financial sector collapse in the wake of the Housing Bubble and Mortgage Meltdown — from which we are still suffering. As mentioned here before, the Congressional GOP introduced H.R. 1135, “Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act – Amends the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to repeal the requirement that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) amend certain federal regulations about executive compensation to require each issuer of securities to disclose in any filing: (1) the median of the annual total compensation of all the issuer’s employees, except the chief executive officer; (2) the annual total compensation of the chief executive officer; and (3) the ratio of the first amount to the second.” []

Again, how many convenience store managers are deferring hiring until it is determined if the SEC may require major corporations to divulge the compensation packages for their chief executive officers?

Over on the Senate side the GOP introduced S. 451, “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Technical Corrections Act of 2013 – Makes technical corrections to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including certain Acts within it as well as other specified Acts, regarding definitions affecting regulation of advisers to hedge funds.  Extends for one year the deadline for issuance of any rule or regulation, conduct of any study, or submission of any report required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, except any rules already finalized.”  []

How many farm and ranch supply store owners aren’t hiring because they’re waiting to see if there will be any more regulations on hedge fund managers?

Ah, but the House doesn’t want to merely hamstring the implementation of the Dodd Frank Act — it wants to repeal it. H.R. 46 introduced by Congresswoman Bachmann would repeal the bill outright.  The bill has been assigned to the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.

How many shoe store owners are delaying hiring decisions because they aren’t sure of the Orderly Liquidation Process included in the Dodd Frank Act for major financial institutions?

Then there’s H.R. 2571 which restricts the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in terms of the kinds of data it may collect.  There’s H.R. 677,  a bill to provide that inter-affiliate transactions, when the parties to the transaction are under common control, will not be regulated as swaps.  How many barber shop proprietors are so vitally interested in the regulations of financial swaps, they’d not hire an extra barber or bookkeeper?

H.R. 701 passed the House on May 15, 2013 to amend the Securities Act of 1933 to set October 31, 2013, as the deadline for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “to add a class of domestic securities to those already exempted from regulation under that Act in accordance with specified terms and conditions, including that: (1) the aggregate offering amount of all securities offered and sold within the prior 12-month period in reliance on the new exemption shall not exceed $50 million, (2) the securities may be offered and sold publicly, and (3) they shall not be restricted securities under federal securities laws and regulations.”  Now, there’s a bill to glaze the eyes of any dry-wall subcontractor?

How about H.R. 1062, which part of the CRS summary describes as follows:

“SEC Regulatory Accountability Act – (Sec. 2) Amends the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Act) to direct the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), before issuing a regulation under the securities laws, to: (1) identify the nature and source of the problem that the proposed regulation is designed to address in order to assess whether any new regulation is warranted; (2) use the SEC Chief Economist to assess the costs and benefits of the intended regulation and adopt it only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify the costs; (3) identify and assess the available alternatives that were considered; and (4) ensure that any regulation is accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.”

Translation, the SEC would have to perform a cost benefit analysis of any regulations, and justify the regulations if they were to have any effect on a financial institution’s bottom line.   Representatives Heck and Amodei both voted in favor of this bill.  [roll call 160]

Have the eyes of the average proprietor of the local dress shop rolled back yet… or are these people waiting for the outcome of H.R. 1256 which creates a nice loophole for London Whales, and “Directs the Commissions to exempt from U.S. swaps requirements any non-U.S. person in compliance with the swaps regulatory requirements of a country or administrative region having one of the nine largest combined swap and security-based swap markets by notional amount in the calendar year preceding issuance of such rules (unless the Commissions jointly determine that such requirements are not broadly equivalent to U.S. swaps requirements).”

Are we seeing the pattern here?  Those supposedly Burdensome Regulations which are allegedly causing small business owners across this fine land to delay or defer hiring decisions because of “uncertainty” must be the result of the activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, and the Dodd Frank Act, because those are the laws the House of Representatives are focused upon.  The bills introduced, and passed, by the House have precious little to do with real small business owners in this country — and everything to do with the convenience and profitability of the Really Big Banks, and the Really Big Global Corporations.

To conflate the needs of small business owners (who need customers to drive sales and services in order to justify hiring decisions) with the profitability and convenience (not to mention the opacity) of major multi-national corporations is misleading at best and downright obfuscatory at worst.

Reality Check Time

Once again, with feeling — small business owners know there must be an increase in the demand for their goods and services in order to make the addition of staff justified in good old fashioned local economic terms.  Small business owners also know that tax policy has demonstrably little to do with demand.   The family automobile needs new brake pads regardless of the marginal rate of federal income taxes. They know that uncertainty in this economy doesn’t emanate from whether major financial institutions and global corporations are required to be transparent in their operations — but from whether or not their customers have the wherewithal to spend money from their personal revenue — salary and wages.

And, where do salaries and wages come from —- JOBS.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Heck, House of Representatives, Politics

Bits and Interesting Pieces

Jig Saw PuzzleThe loopholes and other crafty bits of the Nevada statutes on guns isn’t going unnoticed.  See Launce Rake’s post in City Life for what gun sale check advocates are doing in the Silver State.   There’s more in the ever vigilant Nevada Progressive.  And, more from The Sin City Siren.  No, this discussion isn’t going away quietly, not while the First Lady “shines new light on the gun debate.” Jon Ralston reminds us Nevada Democrats were part of the push for a SYG law in Nevada.  I’m intrigued by the response from the radical right — if the President talks about gun violence, he’s “attacking our 2nd Amendment rights,” but if he says nothing then he’s insensitive to the plight of young people in Chicago?  And, speaking of the radical right…

Oh, Heck! He’s playing every old card in the deck in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.  This is further explained by Hugh Jackson, in a highly informative and, as always, entertaining article.  Some wit tweeted today: “Liberals protest war; Conservatives protest health care.”    If there’s one War Representative Heck is delighted to wade into it’s on a woman’s right to select the health care she needs during a pregnancy.   In May 2011 he voted in favor of H.R. 3, to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions (in spite of the fact that federal funds are already prevented from funding abortions by the Hyde Amendment).  In October 2011 he voted for an amendment to prohibit private insurance companies from offering health insurance companies from covering abortion services.  In May 2012 he voted for PRENDA, and in July 2012 he voted for a bill to prohibit abortions in the District of Columbia.  His last assault on a woman’s right to choose came on June 18, 2013 when he voted in favor of H.R. 1797.   [VoteSmart]  It’s all about being “pro-life” until it comes to feeding the little critters — Representative Heck doesn’t believe Food Stamps should be part of an agriculture bill, leaving a person to wonder where he thinks food comes from? [LVSun]

The NRDC blog has a lovely piece of correspondence from Senator Dean Heller (R-Wall Street) in which he weasels quite nicely out of taking any position on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the EPA.   Opposition to the junior Senator’s participation in GOP obstructionism in the Senate is supposed to be assuaged by saying, “I’ll keep your perspective in mind?”  It doesn’t appear that happened — Senator Heller was one of 40 members of the Senate who voted against McCarthy’s confirmation. [roll call 180]  Heller also voted against the confirmation of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. [roll call 178]

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Filed under abortion, Gun Issues, Heck, Heller, Nevada politics

More? Heck, Amodei answer Oliver Twist’s Question

Oliver TwistRepresentatives Heck (R-NV3) and Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of H.R. 2642, the Food Stamp Free Farm Bill, which passed the House on a 216-208 vote on July 11, 2013. [roll call 353]  Lovely.  However, might I be excused for asking about the “Pro-Life” bona fides of the two conservative representatives from the Silver State when it’s laudable to decry a woman’s right to choose the medical procedures necessary to terminate a problematic pregnancy, or even to deplore the use of contraceptives  — BUT once the child is born it is equally laudable to criticize the profligacy of women who have “too many children” and therefore require public assistance to feed them?

That said, two of Nevada’s Congressional representatives have voted to cut food assistance to approximately 156,319 households in this state.

“In 2011, 12% (332,959) of the population participated in SNAP in Nevada, which is 3% less than the average for all SNAP Participation and Benefits.

In 2011, 16% (156,319) of the households participated in SNAP in Nevada, which is 2% less than the average for all SNAP Participation and Benefits.”  [NVSNAP]

What benefit has been slashed?  The average individual benefit in NV as of 2011 was $124 per month.   Who are the people assisted by this meager benefit?  71% of all SNAP participants are families with children.   26% of all Nevada SNAP participants are families with elderly or disabled individuals. 42% of all Nevada participants are WORKING. [CBPP pdf]

The GOP’s stereotypical imagery of the food stamp recipient as a loafer consuming brew on the porch steps while “hard working” Americans underwrite his existence is just that — an marketable image for ideological consumption, a stereotype suitable for assuaging the I Got Mine You Try To Get Yours Sucker self-serving philosophy of selfishness.

It appears this stereotype is alive and well and vivid for at least two of Nevada’s Congressional representatives, Dicken’s beadle would have been proud.  Representative Titus (D-NV1) voted against the bill, Representative Horsford is recorded as not voting.

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Filed under agriculture, Amodei, Economy, Heck, Politics

Farm Bill Tom Foolery

PlowThe House of Representatives of the United States of America was supposed to pass a Farm Bill (HR 1947) on June 20, 2013 but that didn’t happen, and the actions of Nevada Representatives Heck and Amodei weren’t helpful.

Head counters, AKA the Whips, were fairly certain there would be about 40 votes from the Democratic side of the aisle for passage.  Let’s review the basic numbers.  There are 234 Republican Representatives and there are 201 Democrats.  There are no Independents.  Given these numbers, the House Republicans could theoretically pass any bill they want without Democratic assistance.  Since they’ve voted some 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights it’s reasonable to assume there is some cohesion in the majority.

So, why did the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (HR 1947) go down on roll call vote 286 with a 195-234 count?

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was among the 195 voting in favor of the bill. Representatives Heck (R-NV3), Horsford (D-NV4), and Titus (D-NV1) were counted among the 234 opposed.  Why did those 40 Democratic votes vanish?

There wasn’t much Democratic support for the House version of the Farm Bill to begin with, estimates of 70 Democratic votes were probably too optimistic in the first place, and if Rep. Collin Peterson (R-MN7) is to be believed the straws that broke the old camel’s back were amendments brought to the floor which decimated the SNAP (food stamp) programs.

“And then, you know, we had made a deal on food stamps where I agreed to more cuts than we had considered last year, but I thought we had a deal that there weren’t going to be any other…that we were going to stand together to oppose any other changes in the food stamp area, but that’s not what happened. And three amendments got approved, that each one of them peeled off more support, so we got down to 24 votes, and that wasn’t enough.”  [Peterson, pdf]

The Southerland Amendment was the last straw — the “deal was off” as far as the few remaining House Democratic supporters were concerned.  This amendment was passed on a 227-198 margin [vote 284] with both Amodei and Heck voting in favor of the deal killing amendment.  House Amendment 231 (Southerland) proposed “An amendment numbered 102 printed in Part B of House Report 113-117 to apply federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at state option.”

The federal welfare work rules are: “The Federal government provides assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). TANF is a grant given to each state to run their own welfare program. To help overcome the former problem of unemployment due to reliance on the welfare system, the TANF grant requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid, including single parents who are required to work at least 30 hours per week opposed to 35 or 55 required by two parent families. Failure to comply with work requirements could result in loss of benefits.”  []  Rep. Eric Cantor was only too pleased to see these requirements added to the qualifications for the SNAP program. [Cantor] Cantor acknowledged the need to assist citizens in dire need but added, “our overriding goal should be to help our citizens with the education and skills they need to get back on their feet so that they can provide for themselves and their families.”

The last point goes absolutely nowhere toward explaining why the House hasn’t taken up legislation to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4% to 6.8% next Monday — but, that’s another story.  Or, why in the midst of innumerable anti-choice bills there hasn’t been time for a JOBS Bill… but that’s yet another story.

The GOP axe job on the SNAP program probably wasn’t going to secure the total support of Representatives Horsford and Titus, and Rep. Titus’s interest may indeed have declined precipitously when her amendment, H. Amdt. 192, “to continue the USDA’s Hunger-Free Communities grant program,” failed on a voice vote.

Representative Amodei may one day have to explain why he voted for the Farm Bill, AND also voted for the amendment (Southerland H.Amdt. 231) which was the Deal Killer.   Mother always repeated the old saw, “Can’t have your cake and …..”

Representative Heck behaved precisely as one might expect of a Tea Party Darling, voting against the Farm Bill and voting for the Southerland Amendment.   There’s no time, and I’ve no enthusiasm for explaining yet again, the role of Automatic Stabilizers in the U.S. economy (such as Food Stamps) to a Representative who obviously doesn’t understand and evidently doesn’t want to.

Suffice it to say that a bill was reported out of House Committees, and then subjected to recorded votes on amendments from vote 256 to to 284 (not including the voice vote amendments).  It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the final bill failed after minority support was peeled off during successive waves of amendments.

What is a bit incredible is that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) couldn’t have foreseen the cumulative effect of the amendments on Democratic supporters of H.R. 1947.

Representative Cantor’s feeble attempt to lay the defeat of the Farm Bill at the office doors of Democrats who watched as “deal breaker” amendments were added to the legislation on the floor notwithstanding, perhaps the Washington Wags are on to something — Speaker Boehner cannot control his own caucus.   Brokering a “deal,” and then allowing amendments to come to the floor for recorded votes — amendments which are designed to deplete the store of minority good will — is a recipe for failure.

However, if the Speaker and his Party, are willing to offer the American public the governance philosophy that Nothing is Better Than Anything then he’s been successful.   If this is “success” then how to explain the tanking of Congressional approval?  The Congress of these United States now has an historically low approval rating — a rather miserable 10%.  [Gallup]

This sad state of affairs doesn’t bode well for some important measures which should be coming to the House floor — Immigration Reform, Student Loan interest rates, and JOBS, JOBS, Jobs, Jobs?

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Filed under Amodei, Heck

Nevada GOP Reps Support Assault On 40 Hour Work Week

SweatshopRepresentatives Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Joe Heck (R-NV3) voted on May 8, 2013 in favor of H.R. 1406 “To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide compensatory time for employees in the private sector.”  [roll call 137]  The CRS Summary describes the bill:

“Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 – Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee.”

Trade your time and a half for comp time? What could possibly go wrong? Let us count the ways!

#1. Right off the bat, this is a frontal assault on the 40 hour work week.  The old system, in place since 1938, (pdf) is a dis-incentive for employers to demand longer hours of their employees because over-time costs more, one and one half times more.  This Republican “innovation” allows employers to require more over time work, without any extra compensation.

#2. There are limits on the employee, not necessarily on the employer. For example, under the terms of the bill employees may not accrue more than 160 hours of comp-time in any calendar year.  If there are approximately 260 work days a year (52×5) and we take out 5 for holidays leaving 255 days, then we’d have a total of 2,040 work hours (255×8) during a calendar year.   160 hours is about 8% of the total number of annual work hours.  In some jobs it wouldn’t take much to hit the limit quickly.

#3. H.R. 1406 slaps the wrists of employers who coerce employees into taking comp-time rather than over-time payment with a serious application of a soggy noodle.

“Makes an employer who violates such requirements liable to the affected employee in the amount of the compensation rate for each hour of compensatory time accrued, plus an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, reduced for each hour of compensatory time used.”

Got that?  If an employer threatens an employee who doesn’t want to take comp-time, the employee will be compensated for the “lost hours” plus liquidated damages MINUS each hour of comp-time used.  So, hypothetical Mr. Grinch demands that his employees participate int he comp-time scheme.  Miss Cindy Lou doesn’t want to participate, but is given a “choice” by Grinch to either take the comp-time or (a) get nothing or (b) get canned. She takes the comp-time.  When she complains to authorities she’s to be “paid” back but the time she took off (at the firm suggestion of Grinch) is counted against her?  Lovely.   The “choice” to take uncompensated time off isn’t a viable choice for most working families.

#4. Nothing in the bill requires the employer to be consistent about over-time or comp-time policies.   In fact, an employer can shuck the comp-time scheme if he or she gives the employees 30 days notice.   Then there’s the matter of when the comp-time will be taken.  It would be in the employer’s interest to have employees work over-time during peak seasons and  give comp-time during slow periods.  There’s NO flexibility for employees if the employer is the one determining when the leave can be taken.  Does Cindy Lou need to cash in some comp-time because The Kid is out of school with chicken pox?  Nothing in the bill requires any employer to award comp-time except at his or her own discretion.  This is “flexibility” for the employer and the same old (but this time uncompensated) routine for the employee.

#5.  Employees could easily end up bankrolling the employer in this scheme.  Here’s one example:

“That’s because employers would be able to pay workers nothing at all for overtime work at the time the work is performed and could schedule comp time off at no extra cost to them (for example, during less busy periods when co-workers can pick up the slack). So, when employees request comp time, they essentially become lenders to employers. For example, a worker earning $12 an hour and banking the maximum amount of hours (160) would be giving an interest-free loan of $1,920 to his or her employer.” [AFLCIO]

If we pick the thread in #4, in which the comp-time is scheduled at the convenience of the employer, and the employer is getting the services of the employee at NO EXTRA CHARGE, then those 160 hours of accrued time become a form of freebie loan to the employer.

The Republicans in Congress appear to take some pride in saying they are “pro-business,” and that they promote “pro-business” policies — you can’t get much more pro-business than assaulting the requirement of the 40 hour work week, or the eight hour day, or the notion that employees should “donate” their time to their employer.  What’s next?  By GOP lights should families have the “flexibility” to send their 10 year old kids into the factories? Only in the burbling boiling  cauldron of crazy — does H.R. 1406 constitute a “pro-family, pro-worker” act.

Representatives Horsford (D-NV) and Titus (D-NV) had the good sense to vote against this patently pro-sweatshop bit of legislative stew.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, Heck, labor