In the News: Blog

It’s sad that some political commentators are speculating that conservatives may be less able to “use” Obamacare as an issue as the federal government gradually improves the technical problems that made the rollout last fall such a disaster.

Commentators who say that miss a crucial point: The real harm from Obamacare isn’t that the website didn’t work. It’s that the Orwellian-named “Affordable” Care Act is inflicting enormous damage on the economy.

That means it’s inflicting economic damage on Americans’ lives. A lot of that damage is just now coming to light. Investor's Business Daily reported on a survey from the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve on Thursday that suggests Obamacare is one reason this economic recovery has been the weakest in more than half a century.

“In a Philadelphia Fed survey of regional manufacturers out Thursday, 18% said they employ fewer workers due to the Affordable Care Act than they would in its absence. Just 3% say employment levels are higher as a result.

“Further, 18% said part-timers make up a greater share of workers due to ObamaCare, which absolves employers of responsibility for health care for those who work fewer than 30 hours a week. Just 1.5% said they've scaled back part-time work in response.”

It’s worse when you look at who is hurt the most: Those who can least afford it.

“IBD's own analysis of hours-worked data that businesses report to the Labor Department shows that ObamaCare's mandate is having its biggest impact on low-wage sectors. Among private industries where pay averages up to about $14.50 an hour, the average workweek has sunk to 27.4 hours, undercutting the record low seen at the depth of the recession in 2009.

“One limit to ObamaCare's economic drag is the possibility of evading its mandates by outsourcing work. The Fed surveys show that to be a popular tactic.

“In the Philadelphia area, 14% of manufacturers said they've boosted outsourcing on account of ObamaCare vs. 3% outsourcing less. In the New York region, 19% of manufacturers and 9% of service firms say they've stepped up outsourcing in response.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote of the results, along with similar results from the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta:

“Liberals will dismiss this as merely anecdotal or of minor impact, but it makes sense that ObamaCare's labor effects would be concentrated in some industries with relatively low-wage or marginal workers. The data points also help explain why the number of people employed part-time surged by 12% during the recession but the rate hasn't fallen even as the economy has improved. Or why labor force participation is the lowest since the late 1970s. . . .

“People are responding at least in part to the incentives to work fewer hours or not at all, as the research of University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan on marginal tax rates has shown. But there are also simply fewer jobs available that would have been created in the past, as the Fed surveys show.”

Remember, Obamacare has led to some people gaining health coverage – but only about two million who didn’t already have coverage found insurance through the government-run “exchanges” at the heart of the scheme. Meanwhile, far more people will probably see their coverage become costlier, even unaffordable, in the next few years, say analysts. This illustrates that Obamacare is a bad trade-off just on its own health-care terms.

Add to that the depressing effect it has on whether you’ll find a job, and the news is, well, depressing.

Do you think that meat costs a lot at the grocery store now? It just may get still more expensive, thanks to your government.

Jayson Lusk, a professor of economics at Oklahoma State University, writes in the Wall Street Journal that it is now a fashionable idea among some of the more extreme environmentalists that people should be made to become vegetarian. The claim is that raising livestock, which they do not like, just happens to be destructive. But they may not limit themselves to trying to persuade you, writes Lusk:

“Each to his own, you might say. But these ideas are working their way into government policy proposals. For example, Angela Tagtow, a self-described ‘environmental nutritionist’ formerly with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, was recently tapped to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture's effort to revise federal dietary guidelines. This is a sign that the new recommendations are likely to go beyond nutritional science to incorporate environmental considerations. Many observers believe that meat will be specifically targeted for scrutiny.

“Environmental nutritionists argue that the social and environmental costs of meat production—obesity, chronic disease, the production of green-house gases such as methane, etc.—are not reflected in prices at the grocery store or restaurant. ‘The big-ticket externalities are carbon generation and obesity,’ New York Times columnist Mark Bittman recently wrote. He argues that beef prices don't reflect these externalities and that ‘industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone.’

“That the price of meat is too low might come as news to food consumers who, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid 14% higher prices for ground beef this June than they did in June 2013 and 29% more than two years ago. Recent droughts and high corn prices—due in part to Washington's support for ethanol—are largely to blame. It is unclear how high prices must rise to overcome the view that meat is ‘too cheap.’ Some industry critics have even called for new ‘meat taxes’ to discourage consumption.”

You can’t visit many county fairs or the Wisconsin State Fair without realizing that many Wisconsinites make a living providing meat that Americans want to eat. Our farmers grow it. Our workers turn it into bacon or bratwurst. They all do it with incredible efficiency – which is why critics claim that meat is somehow “too cheap.” The livestock are grown on farms Wisconsinites own and care for, land that often has been in their families for generations. The idea that they are abusing that land by feeding the country and that government must intervene to make meat less affordable is arrogant folly.

And the idea that government should be able to use taxes and regulations to make its citizens avoid the wholesome foods they prefer is repulsive.

President Obama says he cares about people whose job skills don’t earn them much more than minimum wage. He says that’s why he wants to raise the minimum wage – he says that will mean these low-skilled workers will earn more.

President Obama keeps saying this, even though the best evidence is that raising the minimum wage will hurt many of those workers by costing them their jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ nonpartisan accountants, calculates that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour will probably cost 500,000 jobs, perhaps as many as 1 million. It’s fair to ask why President Obama doesn’t seem to care that as many as 1 million low-skilled workers will see their pay reduced to zero.

Liberals usually reply by asking what else can be done for people who don’t earn much. The best answer is a booming economy in which employers compete for workers. But in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Saltsman outlines an answer I and others have advocated: the existing Earned Income Tax Credit. In particular, he notes that Wisconsin’s own Rep. Paul Ryan has talked about how to make the credit, like an income tax in reverse, work better:

“The EITC, a refundable tax credit for low-income households that phases out as income rises, helps the working poor without imposing a harmful mandate on employers. But the EITC has one major weakness: Under current law, the size of the credit is dramatically smaller for individuals and families without children. . . .

“Mr. Ryan's plan would close that gap. His proposal, as described in a House Budget Committee draft, would double the credit that childless adults receive as a percentage of their eligible income—to 15.3% from 7.65%. It would also lower the age of eligibility to 21 from the current 25, and raise the income threshold for receiving the maximum credit to $11,500 from $8,220. The results are significant: A childless adult who now receives $265 annually would take home $1,005 a year under Mr. Ryan's plan. That's roughly the equivalent of raising their minimum wage to $8 an hour.”

Even better, as Saltsman points out: The tax credit goes to people who live in poor households, instead of also going to people whose work skills don’t earn much but who live in well-off homes – such as teenagers of well-to-do families. “Only 18% of the benefits from Mr. Obama's wage proposal would go to minimum-wage earners living in poor families,” Saltsman points out.

Still better: The tax credit doesn’t make it costlier to hire low-skilled workers. It wouldn’t cost up to one million workers their jobs. It doesn’t punish businesses that happen to need a lot of work done that is really only worth $7.25 an hour. It doesn’t make them overpay for that work, the way a minimum wage hike would do.

Maybe that is why the president and other liberals seem to favor the minimum wage hike instead: Perhaps they’re more interested in sending businesses a “you didn’t build that” message and penalizing them accordingly. Perhaps their dislike of entrepreneurs is stronger than any of their talk about helping young people who are going to lose their jobs when the minimum wage rises.

Knowing that, the rest of us should see liberals’ arguments for what they’re worth.

Remember the triumphant tone that the Obama administration took about the number of people who signed up for insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges? Eight million people had signed up, Democrats crowed, even though it turns out about three-fourths of those people were already insured.

Sure, people lost access to life-saving medications because they couldn’t keep the insurance they had and liked. True, Obamacare is making rates rise sharply for many people, and it’s going to make coverage unaffordable for far more people soon, but at least eight million people signed up.

Except that number’s now falling. Large insurers offering coverage on Obamacare exchanges are seeing their enrollment numbers shrink as people who signed up are backing out by not paying their premiums, Investors Business Daily reports:

Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer, “had 720,000 people sign up for exchange coverage as of May 20, a spokesman confirmed to IBD. At the end of June, it had fewer than 600,000 paying customers. Aetna expects that to fall to ‘just over 500,000’ by the end of the year.

“That would leave Aetna's paid enrollment down as much as 30% from that May sign-up tally.”

It’s not just Aetna, the paper reports:

“Other major insurers danced around questions about attrition on recent earnings conference calls, but none denied that it was occurring.”

Why the drop-off?

“The gap between the high watermark of sign-ups and the number of current premium-paying customers reflects both those who never sent in a first payment and those who stopped paying for any number of reasons. For some, finances may have been too stretched. Some may have gotten fed up with high deductibles, and others could have switched plans so they wouldn't have to switch doctors. Still others may have found a job that came with health benefits, or others lost income and qualified for Medicaid.”

Which is good news if it is the case that people were able to earn better benefits at work. It’s terrible news if they found themselves dependent on the charity of taxpayers, which is what Medicaid is. Others are just making do as best they can amid the disruption caused by the president’s well-intentioned but failing scheme.

Not to say that things were just fine before Obamacare, but messing with everyone’s health care for the sake of adding coverage for a small sliver of the population, rather than using good reform ideas that already were being offered, seems like an ever worse idea, now that the number of supposed Obamacare beneficiaries continues to shrink.

It’s a dirty trick that the federal government has played on young Americans, luring them into about a trillion dollars of student debt. This readily available money has insulated students from the cost of college, sparing colleges from market pressures that might have restrained cost increases that have long outpaced inflation.

Worse have been proposals to shift the costs of that debt repayment from students who borrowed too heavily to the taxpayer. Sen. Elizabeth Warren pushed one last spring, for example. It would have permitted borrowers to refinance students loans into new government loans at lower interest rates. I voted against it because it was a bad idea. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out:

“The Congressional Budget Office says the Warren bill would increase federal spending by $58 billion over a decade. But as CBO has repeatedly warned, its official scores by law must underrate the risk of defaults in such federal loan programs, so who knows what this latest election-year pander to young voters will ultimately cost.”

It is especially frustrating to see the government’s good intentions not simply lure students into imprudence but then to shift the cost of that imprudence to taxpayers, many of whom did not themselves benefit from having a college education. Reports that elite law schools, for example, have been appealing to prospective students by telling them government debt-forgiveness programs will cover the bill are especially galling.

I have said as much before, including to a reporter from Wisconsin Public Radio after I met with constituents near Sun Prairie last May. I was a little surprised when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “fact-checking” operation, PolitiFact, demanded proof that some students from affluent backgrounds could take advantage of loans in which some of the costs were shifted later to taxpayers. The evidence is pretty plain.

Things became clearer, however, after the newspaper finally passed judgment this week, claiming my statement was “mostly false.” The Journal Sentinel was playing a game. It more or less ignored the evidence and reinterpreted my statement to get the verdict it must have wanted.

But don’t take my word for it. Fact-check the newspaper by looking at the evidence yourself. First, consider what I told Wisconsin Public Radio:

“I've got a problem where you've got kids coming from an affluent background, taking advantage of all these student loan programs and grants for higher education, and who's paying for that? I mean, in many cases, working class families – the middle class who aren't going to college, who aren’t sending their kids or they didn’t go to college themselves, and yet their tax money’s being used to fund the college educations of more affluent individuals.”

Affluent backgrounds

Is it true that at least some students from affluent backgrounds can access student loans that could be forgiven? The evidence says yes.

Now, I did not say that all students who use student loans are from affluent backgrounds, or even most. I did not say that all or even most students from affluent backgrounds use student loans. What I said was that there were cases of this happening – so, like most Wisconsinites would be, I am concerned about the idea of federal taxpayers subsidizing debt forgiveness.

First, the authoritative Trends in Student Aid report from the College Board shows that students from families with incomes of $120,000 a year or more had accumulated student debt. Does this mean that $120,000 a year defines affluence? I don’t know, but I do know that the top category in College Board’s figures, families making $120,000 a year or more, includes those who may be called “affluent.” The median household income in Wisconsin is about half that, and a household earning $120,000 would earn more than about 85% of all households.

Second, of the “at least 30” federal loan forgiveness and loan repayment programs now operating, most do not include the economic status of a borrower’s family background as an eligibility criterion. Many depend simply on whether a borrower works for a particular government employer, works in a particular job or has repaid some of a loan for a certain time. So students from affluent backgrounds very much can take advantage of loan forgiveness programs. The Congressional Research Service summarized these programs in a recent report.

Sen. Warren’s bill did not limit the deal to federal direct loans that depend on family need – it specifically included Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, for example, and while it included income requirements, those only concern the borrower who is now repaying, not the borrower’s family background. A kid from a well-to-do family who over-borrowed would still have gotten Sen. Warren’s deal.

Third, the Wall Street Journal analyzed data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2012 to report that “households with annual incomes of $94,535 to $205,335 saw the biggest jump in the percentage with student-loan debt from 2007 to 2010. . . . Borrowing has also increased for lower-income families, but by a smaller amount. Families with lower incomes tend to send their children to lower-cost schools.” So, again, students from higher-income backgrounds are taking out student loans.

Finally, as I pointed out before, federal loan forgiveness programs have drawn public notice recently as being used by some prestigious law schools as a way of making degrees free or very low cost to would-be students. The left-leaning Politico reported on this last summer, and the Wall Street Journal did so this spring. The affluence of students’ backgrounds are not a factor in their eligibility for this taxpayer-supported deal.

It’s important to understand just what the federal government is giving. The Journal Sentinel focused on the subsidy the government provides on some student loans — it pays interest while the borrower is in school — and on Pell Grants to needy students, as if these were what worried me. This misses the fact that the taxpayer already is further subsidizing borrowers of all backgrounds by forgiving some student debts. Other proposals, including Sen. Warren’s, only increase this. Forgiving a borrower the debt he owes the government is a grant of federal money.

Who pays

But the question isn’t just whether students from affluent backgrounds have access to student loans that can be forgiven. Is it also true that taxpayers without college degrees pay federal taxes may help subsidize federal loan forgiveness?

Again, the evidence says yes. The Journal Sentinel even concedes this, writing, “In some cases, affluent people get a subsidized loan and based on repayment programs, some small portion hits the general fund.”

It then hastens to add, “But then it’s picked (up) by all taxpayers not simply the group Johnson mentioned — middle class taxpayers with no ties to college.” OK, but I never said otherwise. I did not say that that most of the cost of loan forgiveness is falling on families without college graduates.

But as a manufacturer, I employed lots of Wisconsinites who do not have college degrees. They earned a good living without having piled up excessive student debt. I do not think it is fair that the government should take money they earned by hard work to subsidize people who have the added advantage of a costly college degree. It doesn’t make the situation any less unfair to tell them that they’re only paying part of the bill.

Let’s look at that evidence that taxpayers without college degrees help subsidize federal loan forgiveness.

First, the Congressional Research Service report I mentioned earlier describes the funding for existing federal loan forgiveness programs:

“In loan repayment programs, the direct costs of borrower benefits are not incorporated into the subsidy rates of the federal credit programs through which the federal student loans were made, but rather are funded through the appropriation of funds for the fiscal year during which the loan repayment benefits are made available. … Funding may be provided through either discretionary or mandatory appropriations.”

That is, the programs are funded the way general government spending is. The costs are considerable: for some programs, on the order of billions of dollars over a decade’s time. But they are funded by federal taxes generally.

The Journal Sentinel points out that borrowers who pay back loans are covering the cost, at least in theory. But what the newspaper seems to forget is that back in May, when I gave that answer, the discussion was about programs to forgive student debt — to allow borrowers to pay back less than they owe. The difference would come from taxpayers.

Sen. Warren’s bill, for example, proposed a so-called “Buffett tax,” or a minimum effective rate on incomes over $1 million. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that this “Buffett tax” would not bring in enough money to cover the Warren bill’s costs during the period in which the bill would do most of its spending — only over the long term. But the “Buffett tax” has repeatedly been proposed as a funding source for a series of other Democrat proposals. It’s reasonable to suppose that rather than waiting for the tax to bring in enough to cover past loan forgiveness, Congress will be tempted to use the future revenue for other purposes. In the meantime, the costs of the Warren bill’s forgiveness will already have been borne by federal taxpayers generally — including people of all incomes and educational backgrounds.

Second, your liability for federal income taxes does not depend on whether you have a college degree. People without college degrees are liable to pay federal taxes just as are people with them.

Do people without college degrees earn enough money to pay federal taxes? Yes. Leave aside people who go to affordable technical education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median weekly earnings of workers with no more than a high school diploma were $651, or $33,852 per year.

So, look at the IRS’ Statistics of Income tables. Table 1.1 for the latest year available tells us that there were about 67 million tax returns reporting less than $30,000 in adjusted gross income, about 23.4 million of which reported a positive income tax liability after credits. These returns reported a total of about $21.3 billion in income tax owed, or about $908 per return.

Again, these figures are based on income, not whether a taxpayer has been to college or not. The under-$30,000 category includes college graduates making low pay, just as higher income levels include high school graduates with well-compensated talents.

But the figures do show that someone earning the median pay for high-school-only graduates would be earning more than a group of people who, as a group, paid $21.3 billion in income tax. It is reasonable to conclude that some taxpayers without college degrees are paying some share of the federal tax burden, which in turn subsidizes loan forgiveness programs.

Conclusion

I realize I offered a lot of reading here, but it’s important for Wisconsinites to see what the Journal Sentinel was given.

The paper concluded that my statement was “mostly false” because it “overstates the problem” — because only some students from affluent backgrounds get taxpayer subsidized loans or loan forgiveness, and only some of the burden falls on taxpayers without degrees.

The paper missed the point: I am bothered that the situation happens at all. I didn’t say this was common — I said it was unfair.

My judgment of this PolitiFact check: It was petty and it was wrong. My statement was true and fully supported by the facts presented here and provided to the Journal Sentinel.

It has been four years since Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a misbegotten mess of 2,300 pages that spawned uncounted pages of new regulations. The regulations are uncounted since they’re still being written: Only 44% of those due from the Securities and Exchange Commission have been finished by this month, according to news reports.

Peter Wallison of AEI, the free-market think tank, points out that this isn’t just a huge burden on an economy still struggling to recover. It’s a wasted burden:

“None of this was necessary. The administration and Congress acted hastily. The Treasury Department sent draft legislation to Congress only a few months after taking office in 2009, and the law—spurred by a promise from then-Rep. Barney Frank for a ‘new New Deal’ — passed a year later. The left's view had been settled: the crisis would be blamed on Wall Street greed and insufficient regulation. The act set out to implement that worldview by subjecting American finance to unprecedented government control.

“It is now clear, however, that government housing policies — implemented primarily by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — forced a reduction in mortgage underwriting standards, which was the real cause of the crisis. The goal was to foster affordable housing for low-income and minority borrowers, but these loosened standards inevitably spread to the wider market, building an enormous housing bubble between 1997 and 2007.

“By 2008 roughly 58% of all U.S. mortgages — 32 million loans — were subprime or otherwise low quality. Of these 32 million loans, 76% were on the books of government agencies, primarily Fannie and Freddie, showing incontrovertibly where the demand for these loans originated. When the housing bubble burst, mortgage defaults soared to unprecedented levels. Although the left's narrative placed all blame on the private sector, these numbers show that private firms were responsible for less than a quarter of the problem.

“Yet Dodd-Frank said nothing about government housing policies and ignored Fannie and Freddie.”

Did you get that? More than three-fourths of subprime or low-quality mortgages were on the books of two giant government-sponsored enterprises. Those government-sponsored enterprises were untouched by the regulatory blob Congress passed in the wake of the crisis that they set off. The government was to blame, but the rest of America pays the price.

The economy is technically recovering from the recession, but Mort Zuckerman pointed out in the Wall Street Journal why it doesn’t feel like much of a recovery: It’s because so much of America is working part-time.

“Full-time jobs last month plunged by 523,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What has increased are part-time jobs. They soared by about 800,000 to more than 28 million. Just think of all those Americans working part time, no doubt glad to have the work but also contending with lower pay, diminished benefits and little job security.

“On July 2 President Obama boasted that the jobs report ‘showed the sixth straight month of job growth’ in the private economy. ‘Make no mistake,’ he said. ‘We are headed in the right direction.’ What he failed to mention is that only 47.7% of adults in the U.S. are working full time. Yes, the percentage of unemployed has fallen, but that's worth barely a Bronx cheer. It reflects the bleak fact that 2.4 million Americans have become discouraged and dropped out of the workforce. You might as well say that the unemployment rate would be zero if everyone quit looking for work.

“Last month involuntary part-timers swelled to 7.5 million, compared with 4.4 million in 2007. Way too many adults now depend on the low-wage, part-time jobs that teenagers would normally fill. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen had it right in March when she said: ‘The existence of such a large pool of partly unemployed workers is a sign that labor conditions are worse than indicated by the unemployment rate.’”

Obama jobs tour

President Obama appears at West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek, N.C., on Oct. 17, 2011, during one of his many attempts to appear as if he were doing something about jobs. White House photo by Pete Souza.

The signs of weakness are plenty. Teenagers, for instance, are seeing the worst summer-job hiring in several years. This is the result of economic growth less than half of what is normal. But, Zuckerman points out, there are specific policies that contribute to the trend toward Part-Time America:

“Many employers cut workers' hours to avoid the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide health insurance to anyone working 30 hours a week or more. The unintended consequence of President Obama's ‘signature legislation’? Fewer full-time workers. In many cases two people are working the same number of hours that one had previously worked.”

The president and his Democrat supporters say they meant well in passing Obamacare. Maybe so, but what matters aren’t their intentions but the results, intended and unintended. Washington owes it to America to examine the results of programs and to try evaluating whether new programs might have similar results.

Obamacare raised the cost of employing people full-time. The president proposes making employers pay wages for low-skill jobs far above what markets say the jobs are worth, an idea that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says will cost as many as a million people a job. Already, we’re seeing some employers experimenting with how to hire fewer employees.

McDonald’s, for instance, is trying a system that lets customers order ahead by cell phone:

“The phone will then display the customer’s order number and once their items are ready the customer picks up the items without waiting in a line or interacting with a cashier.”

This is convenient for customers, but it also means fewer jobs manning a cash register.

The Wisconsin-based mattress retailer Penny Mustard, meanwhile, says it is toying with the idea of stores that have no employees, only mattresses and a chance to order online. Maybe this is the future, maybe not. It may mean fewer jobs or maybe just different kinds of jobs. The point is that employers do not hold still. They react in sometimes unforeseen ways to the business environment, including to the changing costs of employing people. When government adds to the cost of employment, it isn’t just employers who pay, but people who are left trying to find a job.

When we think about what to do about the flood of unaccompanied children pouring illegally across our southern border, we have to look for the root cause, and we have to do that compassionately. As others and I have said, that means making it clear to parents in Central America that there will no longer be any payoff for subjecting their children to a dangerous, unconscionable journey in the hands of criminal human traffickers. We need to send the children home as soon as possible.

What’s surprising is that anyone finds this argument surprising. But a CNN host seemed taken aback when comedian Paul Rodriguez, himself an immigrant, made the case. Here's how Rodriguez put it:

“My heart goes out to the parents that have to traumatize their kids to go through Mexico. They must go through terrible abuse. But at the same time, if we accept these children and we don't repatriate them, it's only going to send out a clear signal to everyone in Latin America that, if you get to America, you will stay here.”

Imagine how many children will be riding atop a freight train then, Rodriguez said. He pointed out, correctly, that we already take in many immigrants legally. He said, correctly, that we must treat the children who already have arrived humanely. But he also gets the key question:

“But if we -- if we accept -- let's say we accept these children, we let them stay here in America, we give them good homes, what is this going to say to everybody else? Are we prepared to be overwhelmed? Because that's exactly what's going to happen.”

The Senate voted Wednesday on a pointless political exercise – whether to proceed on a bill based on the premise that the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court erodes the right to use contraceptives.

The premise is wrong. That’s not just my view – even left-leaning newspapers such as the Washington Post have been ripping apart the claim.

ayotteBut two of my Senate colleagues, Kelly Ayotte (right, above) of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer  (right, below) of Nebraska, lay out the facts in the Wall Street Journal far better than I can:

“The biggest distortion: the #NotMyBossBusiness campaign on Twitter, which falsely suggests that under the ruling employers can deny their employees acces

“That's flat-out false. Nothing in the Hobby Lobby ruling stops a woman from getting or filling a prescription for any form of contraception. … No employee is prohibited from purchasing any Food and Drug Administration approved drug or device, and contraception remains readily available and accessible for all women nationwide.”

fischer

Senators Ayotte and Fischer point out that even before Obamacare, more than 85% of large businesses already paid for contraceptives for employees. The federal government already has five programs, they write, to help poor women buy them. Access is not the issue.

Whether the government should be forcing anyone to buy something for someone else that violates her religious tenets is the issue. As Ayotte and Fischer put it:

“While some Americans may disagree with the Green family's views, nearly all Americans believe that religious freedom is a fundamental right that must not be abridged. When President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he said: ‘Our laws and institutions should not impede or hinder, but rather should protect and preserve fundamental religious liberties.’

“Congressional Democrats used to share that view. What's changed?”

mcallen detention

Above: A Customs and Border Patrol agent distributes juice to illegal immigrants at a McAllen, Texas, Border Patrol station. CBP photo by Hector Silva.

I said the other day that true compassion to the unaccompanied children wading our southern border means figuring out how to keep still more children from being sent on that terrible journey.

I’m not the only one saying that, either. Charles Krauthammer puts it well:

“Stopping this wave is not complicated. A serious president would go to Congress tomorrow proposing a change in the law, simply mandating that Central American kids get the same treatment as Mexican kids, i.e., be subject to immediate repatriation.

“Then do so under the most humane conditions. Buses with every amenity. Kids accompanied by nurses and social workers and interpreters and everything they need on board. But going home.

“One thing is certain. When the first convoys begin rolling from town to town across Central America, the influx will stop.

“When he began taking heat for his laxness and indecisiveness, Obama said he would seek statutory authority for eliminating the Central American loophole. Yet when he presented his $3.7 billion emergency package on Tuesday, it included no such proposal.

“Without that, tens of thousands of kids will stay. Tens of thousands more will come.”

There are those who say the children will come anyhow because of violence and poverty. “Nonsense,” writes Krauthammer. “When has there not been violence and poverty in Central America?” What is new is “Obama’s unilateral (and lawless) June 2012 order essentially legalizing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came here as children.”

And passing “comprehensive” reform isn’t the solution: “Indeed,” he writes, “any reform that amnesties 11 million illegal immigrants simply reinforces the message that if you come here illegally, eventually you will be allowed to stay.”

Still others say it would be mean to send children home to poor countries after all they’ve been through. Krauthammer writes, “By that standard, with a sea of endemic suffering on every continent, we should have no immigration laws. Deny entry to no needy person.

“But we do. We must. We choose. And immediate deportation is exactly what happens to illegal immigrants, children or otherwise, from Mexico and Canada. By what moral logic should there be a Central American exception?”

To the contrary, there is good reason to send them home. Tens of thousands of families are now contemplating sending their children into the hands of criminal human-smuggling gangs. It is inhumane for us not to do all we can to deter them.