Idle, Cleese for Daschle’s Health Care Rationing Board

In his recent book Critical, HHS secretary-nominee Tom Daschle proposes to create a federal health care rationing board empowered to deny medical care to patients in government health care programs and, ultimately, private health plans.

The stimulus bill moving through Congress gives Daschle his wish. It provides $400 million for HHS to launch a 15-member “Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research” that would conduct research intended to help government bureaucrats overrule your doctor.

Here are my nominations for Daschle’s rationing board:

Political Prevaricators

As the Illinois Senate prepared to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, Republican state senator Mike Murphy said that Blagojevich “is an unusually good liar.”

Not that good, apparently. Not good enough to stay in office. As opposed to another controversial politician of whom those same words were said a few years ago.

“Clinton is an unusually good liar,” Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) once told Esquire magazine. “Unusually good.”

Better than Blago, it would seem.

Administration Delays E-Verify for Federal Contractors

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is delaying the Bush administration plan to require federal contractors to use the E-Verify worker background check system.

Criticizing the move, Lamar Smith (R-TX), ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee, says, “It is ironic that at the same time President Obama was pushing for passage of the stimulus package to help the unemployed, his administration delayed implementation of a rule designed to protect jobs for U.S. citizens and legal workers.”

E-Verify may well have been designed or intended to protect jobs for citizens and legal workers, but that’s not at all what it would do. I wrote about it in a Cato Policy Analysis titled “Electronic Employment Eligibility Verification: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration” (a 10-year follow-on to Stephen Moore’s “A National Id System: Big Brother’s Solution to Illegal Immigration”):

A mandatory national EEV system would have substantial costs yet still fail to prevent illegal immigration. It would deny a sizable percentage of law-abiding American citizens the ability to work legally. Deemed ineligible by a database, millions each year would go pleading to the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration for the right to work.

Even if E-Verify were workable, mission creep would lead to its use for direct federal control over many aspects of American citizens’ lives. Though it should be scrapped, the longer E-Verify is delayed, the better.

Stimulus Bill Would Launch Daschle’s Health Care Rationing Board

Or so say I, over at National Review Online:

The $819 billion “stimulus bill” passed by the House includes $1.1 billion that has nothing to do with economic growth and everything to do with letting government control your medical decisions… .

Health and Human Services secretary-nominee Tom Daschle … propose[s] a new federal board that would … make “specific coverage decisions” for all government health-care programs and “exert tremendous influence on every … provider and payer, even those in the private sector.”

Daschle understands that refusing to cover specific services is “not so clean cut,” that patient advocates often view those decisions as “matters of life and death,” and that “doctors and patients might resent” the board’s decisions. He therefore proposes to have the board operate under “a decision-making process that is one step removed from Congress and the White House.”

That’s a delicate way of saying that Daschle wants government bureaucrats to have more room to ignore you, even if you have good reason to think your child would respond better to a non-covered chemotherapy agent than the average patient would… .

[The] “stimulus” package would give Daschle $400 million to get his rationing board going.

Capitol Visitor Center Forced to Return Politically Tainted Goods

In addition to the terrible ‘Buy America’ provisions in the stimulus package (blogged about by Dan here and here) comes news that vendors in the Capitol Visitor Center are being forced to remove items made in China from their shelves. In the words of Rep. Bob Brady (D, PA), the chairman of the House Administrative Committee that oversees the Capitol Visitor Center, it is wrong (you get that? wrong) for people to take home souvenirs made abroad. If operators have to pay shipping costs to return the iniquitous goods to China, then, he says, ”if we have to lose a little bit, we’ll lose a little bit.” Indeed.

HT: Jason Vines.

Al-Marri Is (Probably) a Terrorist — We Should Have Tried Him

The Justice Department received an extension from the Supreme Court in the pending appeal of Ali Saleh Mohamed Kahlah al-Marri, an exchange student who allegedly arrived in the United States on September 10th, 2001, as an Al Qaeda sleeper agent. He is the only person presently domestically detained as an enemy combatant, a practice I oppose. The Obama administration is taking the extra time to reconsider the government’s position.

The Fourth Circuit previously held that al-Marri can continue to be detained as an enemy combatant. The unclassified version of the evidence against him is available in the Rapp Declaration. I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Al-Marri is (probably) a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. We should have tried him.

The fight against Al Qaeda is part military, part law enforcement. Whichever approach we use, this is a struggle where the population is not incidental to the battlefield, the population is the battlefield. Insurgencies and terrorism are 10% tactical, 90% propaganda. By making a legal martyr out of al-Marri, we give him a propaganda victory he has not earned.

The FBI did exactly what we want domestic terrorism investigators to do: it gathered evidence to produce an indictment. The government should have followed through with prosecution instead of moving him to a military brig. We prosecute domestic terrorists for criminal actions, and al-Marri should be treated no differently. 

Former FBI special agent and terrorism expert Mike German infiltrated two domestic terror organizations and brought charges against their members. As German says in his excellent book, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent, prosecuting terrorists for fraud charges should not give us pause. 

As an FBI agent my counterterrorism investigations never resulted in anyone being charged with terrorism. The terrorists I arrested were charged with specific criminal offenses; possessing and transferring illegal firearms and explosive devices, illegally using firearms and destructive devices, conspiring to use illegal firearms and destructive devices, and conspiring to violate civil rights. Terrorists use these crimes to accomplish their political goals. Once I had evidence of their illegal activities, I could bring charges against them. Certainly the motive behind their conduct came into play to prove they had the requisite criminal intent, but the laws I enforced had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorists’ ideology.

German also points out that terrorists rely on their claim to be something more akin to soldiers than criminals to maintain political legitimacy. IRA terrorists held by British authorities staged a hunger strike to retain treatment as “prisoners of war” rather than “criminals.” Ten of them willingly starved to death rather than be lumped in with murderers and rapists, the goal of the British “criminalization” strategy. As German writes:

The reasons for the hunger strike reveal much about the IRA and about terrorists in general. They didn’t strike over the anti-Catholic discrimination that led to the civil rights movement. They didn’t strike over the RUC’s police abuse or the stationing of British troops in Northern Ireland. They didn’t strike over being arrested without charges, interned, and tortured. They didn’t strike over indefinite detentions or even over Bloody Sunday. They knew all those things helped their cause. They went on hunger strike because the British government was going to make them look like criminals.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, architect of the 9/11 attacks, sees the writing on the wall — the Obama administration intends to close down the Military Commissions and try him and his co-conspirators in a traditional court of law. This is why he tried to plead guilty and become a martyr for his cause. If we convict al-Marri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court and not a Military Commission or one of the proposed national security courts, the Al Qaeda boogey-man is revealed as a thug, not a noble Muslim soldier. 

Mike German’s recent Cato podcast with Caleb Brown is here. German also spoke on a panel at Cato’s recent conference, Shaping the Obama Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy. The video file is available here and the podcast can be downloaded here. Cato filed an amicus brief in the al-Marri case with the Constitution Project and the Rutherford Institute.

Buy American Is Politics as Usual

As I wrote in an earlier post today, the Buy American provisions in the just-passed House and currently-worded Senate spending bills will encourage similar measures abroad, threatening yet more tit-for-tat protectionism, as respect for international trade rules disintegrates.

It’s not too difficult to discern who’s behind the Buy American provision, which reads:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron and steel [my emphasis] used in the project is produced in the United States.

Evidently, the once-and-for-always politically savvy U.S. steel industry has not lost its touch. Like profit-maximizing firms in any industry, America’s steel producers have devoted large chunks of their profits (which have been enormous and record-setting over the past five years, up until 4Q08) to their highest yielding input. For Big Steel, that input isn’t human capital or physical capital, but the far more productive enterprise of lobbying for taxpayer largesse. And this will be a pretty big payday for these modern-day robber barons.

But, it is absolutely stunning—even to those who have watched this industry impose its will over U.S. trade policy at great expense to other industries time and time again—that nobody in Congress has blown a whistle on this outrageous scheme. The incredibly profitable U.S. steel industry (which has fallen on harder times in the past several months like everyone else), consists of fewer than 100,000 workers. It is the ONLY beneficiary of this hair-brained provision that will undermine any incentive the industry has to remain efficient, and promises to spark reprisals and crush export sales for industries that employ millions of workers. That doesn’t strike me as a recipe for U.S. job growth.

That is not to say that Buy American coverage should therefore be expanded. It should be stripped entirely. All that those rules do is guarantee that a good portion of the billions of dollars the government is borrowing – on our children’s tab – will be wasted on unnecessary mark-ups. Think $300 light bulbs at the Penatagon? Each project will cost more than it should and do much less for the economy and for job growth than they would if those project dollars were in the hands of the private sector – where there is natural incentive for cost management.

The U.S. steel industry has already burdened taxpayers, consumers, and it’s much more economically significant customers (who support 50 jobs for every 1 in the steel industry and account for 10-times the steel industry’s share of GDP) over the decades. Just this decade, the steel industry dumped $13 billion of legacy costs on the taxpayer-funded Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and convinced the Bush administration to impose sweeping tariffs on imports for nearly two years. Not a dime of that was repaid during the industry’s subsequent boom years (which just ended a few months back).

These Buy American provisions are an outrage and someone in the Senate, or the White House, should speak up.

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