Morning Action: Your Money
APPROPRIATIONS. Lawmakers and their aides are working on dividing up program funding in the $1.012 trillion omnibus to fund the government through September (sub. req’d):
With little more than a week before the House is to consider a $1.012 trillion omnibus to fund the government through September, appropriators and staff are working behind closed doors to overcome policy differences and keep program funding at the closely held budget caps.
The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, their ranking members and staffs are expected to finalize the bulk of their respective bills by week’s end, according to an informal schedule set by the chairmen of the two full committees.
Lawmakers and staff members have not released details of program funding since the subcommittees received unofficial versions of their individual caps, known as 302(b) allocations, just before Congress adjourned for the holiday recess. But progress is being made, according to aides and other sources close to the committees.
WASTE. The Heritage Foundation identified ways the government has wasted your money in 2013, and they are pretty infuriating:
1. Government employee trip to luxury hotel in the Caribbean: priceless. Federal employees took a taxpayer-funded trip to the Buccaneer Hotel in St. Croix—the same hotel made famous on TV’s “The Bachelor.” The bill was divided among a number of agencies, making a final tally difficult to come by.
2. Artwork for Veterans Affairs offices: $562,000. The Department of Veterans Affairs went on a spending spree during “use it or lose it” season, purchasing over half a million in artwork and millions in furniture in a single week.
3. Seven-figure stack of rocks at the London Embassy: $1 million. The American Embassy in London will be receiving a granite sculpture from an artist “whose work resembles stacked piles of paving stones,” according to the Daily Mail.
Read more here.
MINIMUM WAGE. Democrat lawmakers are agitating to raise the federal minimum wage in 2014:
Democratic Party leaders, bruised by months of attacks on the new health care program, have found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014: an increase in the minimum wage.
The effort to take advantage of growing populism among voters in both parties is being coordinated by officials from the White House, labor unions and liberal advocacy groups.
In a series of strategy meetings and conference calls among them in recent weeks, they have focused on two levels: an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, which will be pushed by President Obama and congressional leaders, and a campaign to place state-level minimum wage proposals on the ballot in states with hotly contested congressional races.
OBAMACARE. The White House will not say how many young, healthy people have signed up for Obamacare:
The most important thing CMS won’t tell us is the proportion of healthy people, as opposed to sick people, who are signing up for exchange-based coverage. If too many sick people sign up, and not enough healthy people, the average health spend per enrollee will increase, leading to higher premiums that are increasingly unaffordable for average Americans.
Some Obamacare enthusiasts argue that this problem doesn’t matter, because the poor will be protected from rate hikes by taxpayer-funded subsidies. But over time, the subsidies will not be able to keep pace, if healthy people drop out and only sick people by Obamacare-based insurance plans.
And make no mistake: on average, sicker and older people will fare far better under Obamacare than healthy people will. According to an analysis I conducted with colleagues at the Manhattan Institute, older, sicker individuals will benefit most from Obamacare’s exchange subsidies. On the other hand, in many parts of the country, healthier Americans—especially younger ones—will see their premiums double or triple under the law.
LOSING PLANS. The White House announced a net loss of at least 3 million insurance plans:
The White House used a Sunday morning statement to admit that only 1.1 million people have used the federal Obamacare website to sign up for the president’s healthcare network by Christmas Day.
The total reported signups are at least 3 million fewer than the 5 million people whose health-insurance policies were cancelled prior to Christmas by President Barack Obama’s ambitious tax-and-healthcare scheme.
SMALL BUSINESS. A new Obamacare tax will hit small business owners Jan. 1 (sub. req’d):
ObamaCare includes so many taxes that it’s hard to keep track, but one of the worst takes effect on Jan. 1. This beaut is a levy on health insurance premiums that targets the small business and individual markets.
At $8 billion in 2014 and $101 billion over the next decade, the insurance tax is larger than ObamaCare’s taxes on medical devices and prescription drugs combined. The Internal Revenue Service classifies the tax as a “fee” but it functions like an excise tax on premiums. The IRS collects an annual flat amount specified by the Affordable Care Act to be allocated among the insurers according to market share.
But not all markets. IRS regulations published in November excluded “any entity that is a self-insured employer to the extent that such employer self-insures its employees’ health risks.” Since about four of five employers with more than 500 workers and most union-negotiated health plans are self-insured, they are spared from the tax. So is insurance on behalf of “government entities,” such as original Medicare (but not privately run Medicare Advantage).