Stories by Zac Morgan

Zac Morgan is a former Bush Administration political appointee and is currently attending George Mason University School of Law.

Seriously, Why Won’t Perry Drop Out?

January 4th, 2012 at 3:12 pm 40 Comments

So it looks like the indications are that Rick Perry, former front-runner, last place finisher in the 2011 Republican Debate Tournament, is not hanging up his brush jacket yet. Despite his very melancholy nigh-concession last night, the Texas governor seems to be headed to South Carolina instead of back home to Austin.

The question is: Why?

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Perry’s New Gambit

October 21st, 2011 at 12:00 am 40 Comments

Perry’s chances of winning the Republican nomination depend entirely on his ability to sell himself as a Teastablishment candidate. Perry has a ten-year record in Texas that shows an interest in governance, prescription and he has way with sharp rhetoric (“treason”) that sends thrills up the leg of your average Tea Partier.

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Cain’s Immigration Plan is Not Enough

October 19th, 2011 at 1:20 am 30 Comments

Last night’s free-wheeling, pharm barely moderated debate was a joy to watch. We learned that Michele Bachmann thinks Libya is not in Africa. We learned that Herman Cain might have another set of numbers besides 9-9-9: 171-for-1…the number of Gitmo detainees that he might be willing to swap for a single U.S. soldier held abroad by violent Islamists.

And we learned, help yet again, hospital that Mitt Romney is the most likely candidate to clean the President’s clock in next autumn’s debates. Lost in all the excitement, it was easy to miss a critical distinction between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on one hand, and Herman Cain on another. The debate made clear that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have a better grasp of the problems with illegal immigration.

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George W. Bush: Just Another RINO

September 15th, 2011 at 12:01 pm 47 Comments

It’s well established that the Republican Party of 2011 is a far cry from the party of the George W. Bush years. Nowhere is this clearer than the fact that the conservative choice of 2008, Mitt Romney, is now widely perceived as a moderate.

This got me thinking, what would the 2012 GOP debates look like if the Twenty-Second Amendment was repealed and former President Bush left the Bush Center and his Dallas home to hit the hustings for a third term?

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Obama: Already a Lame Duck?

August 4th, 2011 at 2:08 pm 37 Comments

Politico has a piece discussing the “big drags” on the Obama re-elect effort. Nothing too surprising: there is the lack of economic growth and the bad political map. The usual suspects. What caught my eye was this:

A top Democratic strategist who is close to the White House said that Obama’s first-term record “is going to be, on balance, probably a liability” for his reelection, partly “because of the failure to sell and explain the things that they were doing.”

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Al-Qaeda’s Iranian Presence Should be a Greater Concern

July 29th, 2011 at 2:58 pm 6 Comments

Yesterday, drugstore the U.S. government formally announced what many of us have known for sometime: there is a direct connection between al-Qaeda and Iran.  The Treasury Department sanctioned “six members of a terrorist network based in Iran” for serving as “the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, medical facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,” principally meaning Pakistan and Afghanistan. The leader of the group, Ezedin Abdul Aziz Khalil, is a Syrian who has been operating from Iran under an agreement signed in 2005.”

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Meet Rick Perry, the Teastablishment Candidate

July 25th, 2011 at 7:15 am 39 Comments

The Republican Presidential field has a problem.  The top two candidates are Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.

Romney’s issue is that he’s the same Mitt Romney who signed a health care law that the Tea Party considers a Bay State knock-off of President Obama’s “tyrannycare.”  Michele Bachmann’s issue is that she has a history of saying and believing fringe things (remember her flirtations with birtherism?) that render her less electable than a Marxist seeking the presidency of the F.A. Hayek Fan Club.

It’s pure Establishment versus pure Tea Party.  That’s not going to end well…

Palin’s Mandate Hypocrisy

June 2nd, 2011 at 4:06 pm 65 Comments

On the day Mitt Romney formally announced his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, former Alaska Governor took a shot at his Massachusetts health care plan by criticizing government mandates.

RealClearPolitics reports:

‘[E]ven on a state level and a local level, mandates coming from a governing body, it’s tough for a lot of us to accept because we have great faith in the private sector and in our own families and in our businessmen and women in making decisions for ourselves,’ Palin said. ‘Not any level of government telling us what to do.’

And yet… even her home state of Alaska has a few mandates of its own:

  • Alaska requires that you must have a copy of your policy, certificate of self-insurance, or identification card in your immediate possession when you are driving a motor vehicle.
  • If you are involved in an accident that results in bodily injury, death, or property damage exceeding $501, you will be required to show proof of insurance.
  • You must carry limits of at least $50,000 per person, $100,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage.
  • Alaska law requires that all companies make a written offer of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Coverage.

GOP Govt Transparency Bill Flunks Reality Test

March 25th, 2011 at 11:31 am 9 Comments

Before he sat on the Supreme Court, patient Louis Brandeis penned a collection of essays that was published as a book called Other People’s Money.  One quote particularly stands out: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.”  This maxim has served as an inspiration for all sorts of government transparency; from campaign finance reform to lobbyist registration.

Congressman Blake Farenthold, a freshman GOP member and former talk radio host, wants to apply Brandeis’ maxim to the entire federal government.  Farenthold’s basic premise is intriguing: all federal agencies should publish receipts and expenditures on their web sites every two weeks.

In an email on his proposal to the Republican Study Committee (RSC), Farenthold explained that “all too often, federal agencies and Congress have failed to publish their information online.  At other times, information has been published in formats that are not easily searchable, sortable, and downloadable.”

Fair enough.  Unfortunately, Farenthold’s proposed bill (crafted with help from the RSC), H.R. 1061, fails to properly handle this problem.

The bill suffers from an acute case of massive oversimplification.  During the debate over President Obama’s healthcare reform, many conservatives complained that the bill, weighing in at thousands of pages, was too complex for lawmakers to understand or read.

Perhaps as a response to this movement, Farenthold’s proposed law–which would dramatically change the way the federal government keeps its books and informs the public–is 149 words long.  And that’s including introductory language and section titles.  The operative provisions of the law are a scant 87 words.  So, in what I believe is an FF first, I will quote the entire operative section of a proposed bill:

(a) Requirement- Each Federal agency shall publish on the official public website of the agency, at the end of each two-week period, a statement of all funds received and spent by the agency during that two-week period.
(b) Federal Agency Defined- In this Act, the term ‘Federal agency’ has the meaning given the term ‘executive agency’ in section 133 of title 41, United States Code.
(c) Implementation- The requirement of this section shall be implemented beginning not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

A few immediate problems:

1. There is no Section 133 of Title 41 of the United States Code.  However, “executive agency” is defined in the Code at Section 403 of Title 41.  (To be fair, this may have been a problem with the Hill’s legislative counsel office, and not Farenthold’s staff.)

The Section 403 definition is all encompassing: it includes the 15 Cabinet departments, all of the military departments (“the Department of the Air Force”, etc.), “independent establishment” executive branch agencies, and wholly owned government corporations, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Side note: oddly excluded under the 403 “executive agency” definition, the United States Postal Service and the Government Accountability Office.

2. What is an “expenditure” or “all funds received”?  The statute simply does not define it.

Under Chevron deference — the Supreme Court’s standard for judging an agency’s interpretation of their governing statutes — if a statute is too vague for its plain meaning to be discerned, then the court defers to the “reasonable” interpretation of the agency.  Without a standard definition of “expenditure” or “all funds received”, each executive agency will get to determine its own “reasonable interpretation” of the statute.

This is a recipe for legal battles and obfuscation, not transparency.

3.  A Hill staffer suggests that “all the independent agencies and all the national security agencies would immediately seek an exemption from this bill.”

Unfortunately, no such exemption procedure is obvious in Farenthold’s bill.  In his email to the RSC, Farenthold said that “[u]nder this bill, Americans will be able to track every dollar of government agency spending, scrutinize the goals and performance of every federal program.”

Here’s one of many, many future agency objections: What does this mean for classified programs?  For R&D research by our military agencies?

Do all classified programs or R&D research projects get lumped in one or two sections of the disclosure statement, must they be individually itemized, or can they be exempted under an agency’s definition of “expenditure”?

Remember, every two weeks each agency, including the Department of Defense, has to list their expenditures.  And Farenthold’s email seems to intend that under H.R. 1061 Americans would see “every federal program” and its expenditures.

What does all this mean?  Unfortunately, in an 87 word statute, we just don’t know.

4. There is no common format for disclosures.

In his email to the RSC, Farenthold expressed concern that when federal agencies have disclosed their financial information, it is “published in formats that are not easily searchable, sortable, and downloadable.”  He also says that H.R. 1061’s goal is to create an environment where Americans can “perform searches of millions of forms and filings in a similar cohesive manner.”

Unfortunately, his 87 word statute does not achieve this goal.  Unlike SEC filings, there is no general form.  How should expenditures be categorized?

Heck, there is no guidance as to where on their websites or in what document format that agencies have to post their information.  Do they have to provide a link on their main page, or can it be hidden in another section?  Does it have to be in PDF or Word format, or both?  Neither?

Let’s be clear: Congressman Farenthold has struck upon a neat idea.  There should be more transparency in the federal government’s expenditures, and citizens ought to be able to evaluate how programs work.

Unfortunately, his proposal is not a serious one.  Indeed, H.R. 1061 is a crucial reminder that Republicans need to elect candidates to office that are willing to really roll up their sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty business of governing.  Republicans cannot be caught shouting bumper sticker slogans on the floor or writing 87 word statutes that bear no resemblance to reality.


Romney’s Sticking by Romneycare

February 2nd, 2011 at 11:57 am 14 Comments

It has become conventional wisdom that the passage of President Obama’s health care reform measure killed Mitt Romney’s White House ambitions. The Connector program in Massachusetts served as a blueprint for the President’s initiative, and Romney has long defended his individual mandate. As the 2012 campaign approaches, Romney’s choices seemed as bad as a new Nick Cage movie: either he would defend the individual mandate (and, by extension, Obamacare) or reverse course, reinforcing his position as the right’s very own John Kerry, a Bay State flip-flopper with fine hair.

On Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos, Romney wound up and tossed a knuckle-curve. He denounced the Obama plan and asserted his opposition to the individual mandate as a national cure-all. But he also stoutly defended the individual mandate he imposed in Massachusetts.

Confusing? Not at all. Romney went on to defend the Massachusetts mandate as a legitimate function of a state government, since the states have powers that the Federal government does not. This is absolutely true. Unlike the Federal government (limited to enumerated powers), the states have the so-called “police power”, the ability to enact laws to protect the health, safety, morals and welfare of their citizens. The most rabid Tea Partier and fervent commerce clause expansionist would have to cede this one.

The former governor also hinted at his preferred health care system, a scenario where all fifty states have their own programs, mandate or no. After all, he reasoned, even though a mandate may have been the right call for Massachusetts, he would ”like to see states pursue their own ideas, see which ideas work best.” And so Romney positioned himself as a champion of the United States as a federalist nation; a shrewd play to the GOP base, which has long fetishized the Tenth Amendment.

Romney is not out of the woods yet. He still needs to explain to the anti-mandate base why any individual mandate is a good thing, and tap-dance his way around the argument that requiring the purchase of health insurance is akin to requiring the purchase of a car. Furthermore, the argument that we ought to have fifty state health care programs may not be much of a winner in a general election. Like it or not, most voters seem to consider health care a national problem that demands a national solution.

That said, for a politician who has been thoroughly unconvincing at his attempts to cover-up his past positions and wriggle his way to the right, Mitt Romney did a splendid job here.  Hats off, Governor.